Friday, June 05, 2020

Evening Note for Friday, June 5

Thought for the Evening: Rosmini on the Proximate End of Civil Society

Rosmini argues that civil society is a late conception, one that can only arise (but will inevitably tend to do so) once the conditions for a considerable degree of political abstraction arises. The natural societies are households, either families and what pertains to them or religious societies (theocratic, as Rosmini calls them); the latter are effectively domestic societies in which the heads of household are the gods or (in the case of the Church) God. These domestic societies expand naturally; as they get bigger, they become the extensive domestic societies that we often call 'tribes'. In all of this right and order are maintained by the head of household.* However, it can happen that events force together different households. This can be handled in different ways, but sometimes finding a peaceful solution to problems that come up requires that the households be considered in an abstract point of view, so that all the heads of households come together in a consensual agreement to work together under a common authority. Thus civil society is born.

Two things follow from this. (1) Civil society is primarily structured in such a way as to handle households; individuals it can reach, but this is indirect.** What civil society, as such, sees is the public face that comes from family interacting with family. (2) Civil society is the direct source of no rights; it presupposes the rights of the domestic societies that it includes. These rights arise by way of households pursuing good, both for themselves and for their members, and recognizing that there are requirements that have to be fulfilled if this pursuit is to be successful. Civil society, not being the source of these rights, and in fact being created in order to protect them, can only be geared to one thing: guaranteeing that their exercise occurs in such a way (mode) that one household's exercise of its rights does not, whether by accident or carelessness or immoderation, harm another household's ability to exercise its rights.

This gives us the proximate end of civil society: to regulate the modality of rights in such a way as to preserve their worth. The same right can be expressed in different ways; civil society regulates these expressions so that conflicts can be avoided and peace maintained among the households that allows them to seek the good appropriate to them:

Civil society, far from being able to appropriate or encroach upon the rights of other individuals or societies, is intended to protect them, not to destroy or weaken them, nor tie them down or harm them in any other way. This would be the very opposite of protection. It is a society based entirely on respect for others' rights, whatever they may be. Such respect is its primary, essential and universal obligation; all its other special duties stem from this. Its only right is to observe these duties. It is a society which, to protect rights, also modifies their form, and co-ordinates them so that they co-exist peacefully without impeding one another reciprocally, but develop and prosper. (About the Author's Studies, p. 28)

This is obscured somewhat by the fact that the states in actual existence are virtually never pure civil societies. Due to history, all states, including modern European states even when they have a fairly robust notion of civil society, treat themselves as not merely civil authorities but also as owners and lords; they treat their citizens not merely as citizens but also as subjects. This is in great measure because they in fact grew out of the union of expanded households that had both extensive ownership and servants (who are people who have become members of household by extension), and so it was natural to think of authority along those lines, with civil society as a sort of metaphorical family, the king's household and those under the king's protection, for instance. In any case, this lordship-element, if it is inherited rightfully, can be reasonable, but the authority of a state insofar as it is acting as lord and the authority of a state insofar as it is a state organizing a civil society are quite distinct, and the rights and responsibilities of people qua citizens are not the same as their rights and responsibilities qua subjects. Thus as civil society develops, it needs to begin clearly distinguishing the pure civil function of regulation of the modality of rights.

This regulation of the modality of rights without harming their worth in practice involves four parts:

The four parts of what we call the regulation of the modality of rights are therefore: 1. to defend one's rights; 2.settle disputes; 3. modify the exercise of the rights of individuals either to prevent the harm threatened without such modification, or 4. to obtain a benefit which would be impossible if everyone exercised their rights without regard for the rights of others. (Rights in Civil Socierty, p. 238)

The first of these is the foundation of the state's authority in matters of diplomacy, war, etc, and also of its policing and penalizing powers; the second of its judicial and mediating authority; the third of much of its legislative power, by which it directs how rights can be exercised on the principle of maximizing the freedom of all; and the fourth of its institution-making and administrative powers. The third and fourth are also the foundation of the one sense in which civil society can be considered a source of rights: it can clothe prior rights in a particular form or typical expression, and it can create specialized 'cocktails' in which multiple different rights are capable of being exercised together in various combinations (such as in property rights or privacy rights) that are suitable for handling the problems with which the society must deal. The result is an interesting paradox; by restricting itself to regulating the modality of rights, and working out what that means, a civil society grows in the scope and range of its authority, without at any point intruding on the rights that pre-exist it.

Naturally, Rosmini thinks that one of the great errors in modern times is the failure to keep civil society within its proper bounds. In particular, legislatures regularly attribute omnipotence to 'the People' as a fiction to justify doing whatever they want to do, with the inevitable result that injustice is done. Societies that are corrupted in this way cannot preserve rights in a way appropriate to their proper worth.

Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies, Introduction to Philosophy, Volume 1, Murphy, tr., Durham House (Durham: 2004).
Antonio Rosmini, Rights in Civil Society, The Philosophy of Right, Volume 6, Cleary & Watson, trs., Durham House (Durham: 1996).

* Rosmini of course calls 'heads' of households 'fathers', but he is also explicit that it is a function that can be and often has been fulfilled by women -- nothing about domestic society in general prevents such a society from being set in order by a matriarch.

** For instance, it could do so either insofar as it is required to facilitate cooperation of households or by treating individuals as (in a sense) households of their own. The latter, I suspect, has been a significant influence on the development of modern individualism. One could perhaps also argue that minimizing the family or household proper but treating individuals as if they were households of one is also the source of a common problem in many systems of political philosophy, namely, their difficulty in including individuals whose condition and character causes problems for thinking of them as if they were the head of a household of one: the unborn, children, prisoners, the seriously disabled, the very sick, the comatose, the elderly, the dying, in short, those who by their very condition are reliant on someone caring for them, and thus cannot fully exercise head-of-household functions for themselves, even as a matter of usable legal fiction.

Various Links of Interest

* James Wilson, The Trolley Problem Problem

* Landon Elkind, Tracing the symbol for disjunction

* Bower, McLeish, et al., A medieval multiverse?: Mathematical modelling of the thirteenth century universe of Robert Grosseteste: attempts to rough out what a mathematical model of Grosseteste's cosmology might look like

* Rita Koganzon, Reasonable Education

* Peter Kwasniewski, Correlations Between the Sacraments and the Readings for the Octave of Pentecost

* Peter Lemarque & Nigel Walter, The application of narrative to the conservation of historic buildings (PDF)

* Laeti Harris, Louise Moody, and Pam Thompson, On Sex and Gender Identity: Perspectives from Biology, Neuroscience and Philosophy

* Faye Ginsburg, Mara Mills and Rayna Rapp, From Quality of Life to Disability Justice: Imagining a Post-Covid Future

* Quote Investigator chases down the origin of the quotation, "Paradox is truth standing on its head" (Chesterton is the reason why so many people know it, of course, but he makes clear he did not originate it).

* Livia Gershon, The Surprising History of Homework Reform

* J. E. H. Smith, The History of Philosophy in Global Context: Three Case Studies

* Mary Grabar, Howard Zinn’s Assault on Historians and American Principles

* Gladden Pippin, The Return of the Church's Repressed Boundary Problem

* Aditya Mani Jha, One Hundred Years of Hercule Poirot

Currently Reading

Jan Patočka, Body, Community, Language, World
Jan Patočka, The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem
Daria Spezzano, The Glory of God's Grace
Roger Scruton, Notes from Underground

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